Date: Thu, 30 Oct 1997 12:53:32 -0600
From: "Albert E. Krahn" krahna[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]MILWAUKEE.TEC.WI.US
Subject: The "n" word and M-W Collegiate Dict
At 12:29 PM 10/28/97 -0500, you wrote:
From Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, p. 19a
(Explanatory Notes), Order of Senses: "The order of senses within an
entry is historical: the sense known to have been first used in
English is entered first."
From the definition of "nigger": "1: a black person -- usu. taken to
be offensive 2: a member of any dark-skinned race -- usu. taken to
be offensive 3: a member of a socially disadvantaged class of
persons it's time for somebody to lead all of American's ~s ... all
the people who feel left out of the political process -- Ron Dellums
_usage_ _Nigger_ in senses 1 and 2 can be found in the works of such
writers of the past as Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, and Charles
Dickens, but it now ranks as perhaps the most offensive and
inflammatory racial slur in English. Its use by and among blacks is
not always intended or taken as offensive, but, except in sense 3, it
is otherwise a word expressive of racial hatred and bigotry."
This is indeed what is in this dictionary, and it is clearly incomplete.
For example, the final sentence is far too weak. The expression "not always
intended or taken as offensive" is misleading.
I have often heard blacks use the "n" word as a term of friendship or even
endearment among themselves. That aspect is not adequately dealt with
above. The positive use of (otherwise negative) epithets is common to other
groups as well.
On another score, the M-W does include a mention of people who have
"reduced pigmentation" under "white" (1348) and something about people
under "yellow" (1371). Also, I have heard blacks use the word "white" with
a clearly derogatory meaning. There is no mention of this under "white."
Perhaps this deserves a usage note, too. (:)
What it all boils down to is context: We need to know who is speaking to
whom -- and much more -- to discover what meaning might be intended.
krahna[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]milwaukee.tec.wi.us Al Krahn Milwaukee Area Technical College
700 W. State St. Milwaukee WI 53233 414/ w297-6519 fax297-7990